By Jana Persky
The man credited with the renaissance of Oregon football is Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight M.B.A ’62, who has contributed $300 million to the University of Oregon and its athletic programs over the past 20 years and helped the school develop its “University of Nike” image. He even has his own locker in the Ducks’ new Football Performance Center, which Knight paid an estimated $68 million to construct.
But Knight, who was once named “the most powerful man in sports” by “The Sporting News,” also shares a strong connection to Stanford, who will be battling the Ducks in a top-five college football matchup tonight.
According to Knight, the inspiration for Nike came from running track at the University of Oregon and the company’s business plan came out of his time at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB).
“I’ve always felt that I owe a lot to both, and when I got in a position to be able to make…contributions, a lot of it has gone to Oregon athletics and a lot of it has gone to the Graduate School of Business at Stanford,” Knight said. “I have huge affection for both schools.”
Despite Knight’s affinity for both universities, there is no question which football team is his number one: the Ducks.
“I wore the Oregon jersey in track for four years and that’s become my favorite athletic team,” Knight said.
While Knight’s financial support for Oregon football is well documented, his donations to Stanford have been most notable on the academic side. In 2006, Knight gave an unprecedented $105 million for the construction of the Knight Management Center at the Stanford GSB, where the dean is titled the Philip H. Knight professor.
However, he has also made contributions to the Stanford Department of Athletics.
“Our sports medicine center, located within the athletic department, is named for Phil and Penelope Knight and the support they have shown for our student-athletes is outstanding,” said Stanford associate athletic director and football director of operations Matt Doyle in a statement to The Daily.
Knight confirmed that he hasn’t given any personal money directly to the Stanford football program, but he noted that the team bears the Nike brand, an association of which Knight said he was “very proud.”
Knight added that he was happy to see the success of both teams over the past few years, even as Oregon and Stanford have become each other’s biggest competition — and biggest hurdles on the path to a national championship.
“It’s always been a big game and an emotional game [between the teams],” Knight said. “It’s nice to see them both at the top of the Pac-12 Conference and right now both [are among] the top six teams in the nation.”
Knight is particularly effusive in his praise of Stanford football head coach David Shaw.
“Nike has a relationship with the Stanford football program and we know David and Kori Shaw and think they’re two of the best people on Earth,” Knight said. “Stanford has a really good football coach.”
Knight said he tries to attend as many college football games as possible each year, even if the Ducks aren’t playing. He attended the Stanford-Washington game on Oct. 5, and said that he would be going down to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the showdown between Louisiana State and Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Given the stakes of the matchup and his connections to both teams, Knight will certainly be at Stanford Stadium tonight, although he is circumspect about where he will be sitting.
“I’m going to kind of hide,” Knight joked, but he added that Stanford is one of the friendlier stadiums he visits.
“It’s funny, because…I go into Corvallis for Oregon State, I get spit on, and I get a lot of catcalls at Washington State and Washington as well, but Stanford has always been okay,” Knight said.
And his prediction for the outcome tonight?
“I think it could probably go either way,” he said, “but since I’m rooting for Oregon, I’ll predict Oregon in a one-point win.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford.edu.